The best Hamburg bars
Hidden behind a nondescript doorway on Paul-Roosen-Straße you'll find Clockers. It may look like nothing much from the outside, but once you buzz in you'll uncover a relative Narnia. Talk about bringing the outside in: Clockers is a modest basement joint with fake grass and logs on the walls, all overshadowed by a tree branching overhead. Beeline for the bar, pull up a stool and order something with gin – they distill their own after all. They even host gin tastings, so check their website for future dates before you head down. A little exploration will land you in the even tinier upstairs room that looks a little like a library, with leather chesterfields and an overflowing bookshelf.
This corner joint in the Reeperbahn is as classic to Hamburg as a local boozer is to Britain. Having been plonked in the same spot since 1949, Zum Silbersack is a popular spot, but it's worth muscling your way through the crowds for the bargain drinks and late-night power ballads. Ignore the sticky floors, curt service and archaic decor, and try to nab one of the few tables, as you'll likely want to sample the beer selection and typical German grub.
While Sternschanze fast evolves, you can trust Le Fonque to stay true to its roots. Firstly, they're vinyl obsessives and will play nothing else. Secondly, the prices remain reasonable, so you can happily sip your Astras safe in the knowledge that your piggybank will still be intact come morning. The exterior is mysteriously plain, if bright red, hinting at the enigmatic innards, which are also awash in red lighting. A DJ, pitched at the bar, plays a mix of funk and soul nightly, luring you down the grungy stairs, into the welcoming womb of the drinking/dancing den.
Le Lion has quickly claimed a reputation as one of the best cocktail bars in Hamburg, if not Germany. Behind its door-belled entrance, the two-floor venue channels Mad Men-style glamour, with textured wallpaper, wooden sheen and a palette of amber, gold and an appropriately whiskey brown. Though the clientele is mixed and informal, the place exudes an elegant poise; the music is sultry and smooth, the lighting golden soft, and the capacity carefully monitored to allow enough expert attention for each cocktail creation. Le Lion’s signature drink is the Basil Smash, which is basically a liquid dose of Italian summer, no matter how cold or wet Hamburg is outdoors.
It sounds a bit USSR and is certainly more than a bit like drinking on a Cold War film set. With its sleek panelling, metallic finish, minimalist wall clock and rectangular configuration of tables and office chairs, Central Congress looks ready to welcome prominent party members, rather than hip Hamburg night owls. But since opening a couple of years back, this conference-styled locale has won a crowd of image-conscious fans. Its round-table layout makes it a neat place to start up conversation with other drinkers, but bear in mind it prides itself on being off the main tourist track. The drinks menu is as pared down yet precise as the retro design—think gin, pastis, vermouth, a select few red and white wines, local beer and coffee. (And for more vintage design, check out the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe just down the road.)
As close as Hamburg gets to the Caribbean, StrandPauli brings you true beach vibes with sand, wooden decks, palm fronds and, if you’re lucky, harbour-side rays. The tall central lamppost is a little out of joint, but otherwise the place does a fine job at transporting you from the Elbe to tropical island chill, complete with relaxed tunes, shabby mix-and-match furnishings, and laid-back, friendly service. Needless to say, it’s a summer hotspot, but proudly open all year round, with hearty fondue added to the menu in the colder months, and some stunning winter sunsets across the water.
All aboard. This self-styled "underground club station" is a relative newcomer to the Hamburg nightlife scene but already a favourite with its kooky concept and top quality techno, electro and hip-hop sounds. Situated in the St.Pauli Klubhaus off the famed Reeperbahn, the Bahnhof stays true to its name, mimicking the U-Bahn aesthetic from its curved, tiled walls to the "compartment" seating and the bespoke bar built from original parts of an old subway. But it’s not all urban grunge and artefacts; there are chandeliers, cosy sofas and a supremely friendly staff. Bahnhof Pauli also plays host to concerts, comedy nights, and open-mic sessions; check their “Fahrplan” online for the latest listings. Want to impress your travel companion with some local trivia? The incongruously old-school police-station a couple of doors down is something of an iconic German institution; it’s featured in various TV series and films and once had Paul McCartney and Pete Best in for the night.
For a laid-back glass of wine with neighbourhood vibes and a leafy setting, make your way up to Ufer. This small café and bar, right by the northerly Isebekkanal, combines rustic charm with great food and wine, and remains (so far) well off the beaten tourist track. The interior is simple and charming, if not prize-winning, but if it’s warm enough—and there are blankets if you’re unsure—a cool Riesling beneath the trees outside is lovely. Service is English-speaking and very friendly. If you get hungry, the Flammkuchen are completely homemade and delicious.
With its prominent corner location, Bar Rossi is regarded as another of the best club-bars in the Schanze, combining great cocktails with disco and electro beats. It’s a retro-glamour vibe, with rich-coloured walls, low soft seats and a showpiece modernist chandelier. The drinks menu is strong on gin, while signature cocktails include the Rossi Fizz—soda, egg white, rhubarb syrup, lemon and orange and vanilla infused Helbing Kummel, a classic Hamburg liquor. Once you’ve got your groove on downstairs, head upstairs for a generous dance floor and great views over the Schanze from the wrap-around balcony. Rossi also does live music sets every Wednesday night.
A few Hamburg bars vie for the best views accolade, but the swanky Skyline Bar 20up—yup, 20 floors up—is often deemed the winner. Yes, it’s a hotel bar, and it’s certainly more than a little touristy, but with its high perch and floor to ceiling windows, the view sure is impressive. For those who like to get a sense of city geography from the get-go, this a perfect spot to go on your first evening in Hamburg, sipping a drink on a tall bar stool while taking in the St.Pauli district, Elbe, Elbphilharmonie, and the vast harbour infrastructure that’s so integral to Hamburg’s history and sense of self. Note that scenery like this doesn’t come cheap; the prices are steep and some feel they’re paying predominantly for the panorama, with good (but not exceptional) cocktails. This is a popular place with a strict dress code. Be sure to arrive the smarter side of casual for a better chance of getting in.